Who Blinked First ?

The Brexit negotiations have dragged on for almost 2 years now, and are close to the wire.  And the question has always been – who will blink first?   Our wonderful Government set off on completely the wrong foot, insisting that there were red lines we would not cross.  And yet at the same time insisting that it would be possible to have exactly, or as near as dammit, the same benefits in trade as we already have. We were accused, rightly, by the Eu of cherry picking; of wanting the good bits of the Single Market without the awkward or unpopular bits – freedom of movement.  And yet, this was supposed to be the Party of Business, when it was businesses, agriculture, catering, hospitality, care homes, many lower paid factory jobs who relied on this labour supply coming in to do the jobs which most English kids didn’t want to do.  Anyway, Mrs. May pandered not only to the petty prejudices of people who couldn’t see beyond the Polish shop in the High Street, but also to the Right-wing nutters in her own party who hated Europe with a vengeance.  What she did not realise was that nothing would satisfy them; when you give them one concession they simply bay for more.  And they have consistently been the problem.

In fact, this whole Brexit nonsense was always a problem in the Tory party.  Just like the Corn laws two hundred years earlier.

And so, we got ourselves backed into a corner – and who would blink first?  Would it be the DUP (very unlikely), the ERG mad brexiteers (Not after coming this far), would it be the EU (not likely either?)  So, who blinked first?  Mrs. May – that’s who.  Desperate to remain Prime Minister for at least another week or two she has been prepared to agree to almost anything (usually to renege on her promises, true) to survive.  But now she has blinked and is still blinking like a rabbit caught in the headlights of reality.

The stupid threat of leaving with no-deal is fast disappearing.  It was never a threat that would hold to the end.  Now, it is most likely that either we will leave with Mrs. Mays deal (still very unlikely) or we will get at least a two-month extension.  But of course Mrs. May will have to go cap in hand and ask for it.  The EU will almost certainly only grant it if she drops some of her red lines – the most likely is her objection to the Customs Union.  Which will mean her party is even more split.  Watch out for the headlines of Traitors and Betrayal. This is not over yet.

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My Record Collection 64

David Crosby – Where do we begin; he was a founder member of The Byrds (see B) and was on their first 5 and the very last album, incidentally a band almost as influential as the Beatles.  He was a founder member of Crosby. Still and Nash (and Young – see later).  He made a trio of brilliant albums with Graham Nash.  He was a complete drug addict, cocaine, heroin, everything.  He has been to prison, he has nearly died twice, has a new liver.  According to Nash, he used to be shooting up between songs.   And he is still going and making new music even now – which I must start to catch up with sometime.  He also has the most beautiful voice – and is a pretty good songwriter.

His first solo album is the wonderful spaced out ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’ (1971).  This was released just after CSNY’s Déjà vu album and went to 2 in the album charts.  A stellar cast of musicians including Jerry Garcia, and Joni and Nash on backing vocals; David was Joni’s girlfriend until he introduced her to Graham who became her next lover (good luck to them all, wish I had been around then).  The record is very spaced out and jazzy and quite heavy, some great songs, especially ‘Laughing’ and ‘Traction in the Rain’.  It takes me right back to those heady days of discovery in the very early Seventies; I was in London, on my own but a single parent and every Saturday I would spend 30 shillings on a new album (a lot of money back then), I used to go to a small independent record shop on the Holloway Road and all of this stuff was the owner’s recommendations – he was never wrong.

David stopped recording solo until 1989, concentrating on group and Crosby/Nash records.  I caught up with him again by accident when I found Thousand Roads in a secondhand record shop in Frinton.  This was recorded in 1993 but could have been from any time in the last 50 years – the voice and the phrasing and the music is timeless.  Best songs are ‘Hero’ recorded with Phil Collins, ‘Yvette in English’ (a Joni song) and ‘Old Soldier’ – a lovely record.

I also have one live album (though there are many bootlegs around) It’s All Coming Back To Me Now. (1995).  This is another superb effort, with a few new songs and some very old ones too.   David is in good  voice but many of the songs are too long drifting off into overlong guitar breaks.  Still not too bad.

Crosby/Nash.  Graham Nash used to be in the Hollies, but on a visit to America in 1968 he met David Crosby and Stephen Stills at Joni’s house.  They harmonised together and got on really well – fuelled no doubt by copious amounts of hash. Anyway Nash soon left the Hollies and moved to America forming CSN the following year (see later) The band were a huge success, and in the next couple of year each band member released solo albums and Neil Young occasionally joined them live and on record.  David and Graham were particularly close and as well as appearing on each other’s records decided to record together.  Their first self-titled album David Crosby Graham Nash was probably their best.   Full of enthusiasm, Graham’s song burst out at you while David is elegiac and serene.  This album is all part of almost seamless whole in the very early Seventies, After the Goldrush, Songs for Beginners, the CSN album and Déjà vu, Harvest and If I Could Only Remember My Name – this loose group could do no wrong.  Best songs on this one are ‘South bound Train, Page 43 and Immigration Man.  Superb.

Three years later they released Wind On The Water – but despite some great songs the cracks were beginning to show; CSN were constantly bickering and Neil Young joined and left as the mood took him.  The band had tried to record a new album but the sessions broke up in acrimony – too much cocaine I suspect.  So Nash and Crosby made their second album.  It is okay, but the songs seem weaker to me, not as exciting as their debut.  Still it is nicely sung.  Best songs ‘Cowboy of Dreams’ and the final song ‘To the Last Whale’.

The following year after another unsuccessful attempt at a CSN album the duo recorded their third record Whistling Down The Wire. Well, this seems much better – the songs have better harmonies, the words stick in your brain better and it hangs together nicely.  Best songs – ‘Spotlight’, ‘Marguerita’ and ‘Broken Man’.  And that was it, at least for a very long time. They released a very good Live Album in 1977 – very good renditions of favourites with a couple of new songs.   Both Crosby and Nash continued to work sporadically with CSN and Neil Young.  A few tours and break-ups and re0unions.  Until, suddenly in 2004 a double album appeared simply titled Crosby and Nash.  And it is really very good – except it is far too long and after a few songs it all begins to blur into one slightly soggy hippy ramble.  Some good songs though, many of Crosby’s written with his son, who he now makes records with (must catch up some time).  I cannot really pick out favourite songs, because there are so many, but ‘Through Here Quite Often’ and ‘Penguin in a Palm Tree’ stick in my mind.  Had this been released in the early or mid-seventies it would have been massive, but times have changed and most of their fans have moved on, even me really.

Whistling Down The Wire (Rmst)

Shamina Begum

There has been a lot of controversy over this young woman, or rather the fact that having left (with much publicity) to join ISIS in Syria four years ago, she now wishes to return to Britain.  It is almost impossible to truly discern her motives when at 15 she left school and family to join, and presumably fight for, the Islamic Caliphate, which at that time occupied a large swathe of territory in both Syria and Iraq.  She now says she was indoctrinated at the time – but does that make her any the less responsible?  Does her age, just 15, make any difference?  The law says that a 15 year old girl is too young to consent to have sex, but in the commission of many crimes the age appears to be much lower.  In any case what specific crime was she supposedly guilty of?  Can we be sure that she actually partook of any acts of violence?  Is being a sympathiser in itself a crime?  Too many questions and almost an answerable problem.

Add to all of this the barely disguised fact that ISIS was encouraged and probably funded by the CIA and the Saudis in order to help overthrow an elected leader of a foreign country and we are in very murky waters indeed.  Also, and maybe central to the whole argument is the fact that Begum is a Muslim.  There has been a war of words, fuelling a hatred of Muslims, waged by at least three of our ‘popular’ newspapers – and a tacit acceptance by television news to concur in this or at least to accept it.

And now the Home Secretary has declared that she is to be stripped of her British Citizenship and that she should apply to Bangladesh where her mother was born.

What do I think?  Actually, whatever the rights and wrongs of the case,  she is far better off not returning to Britain.  There is already a campaign of hatred against her and it would be highly unlikely that her identity could be kept secret.  She is safer away from the UK, even in Syria itself maybe.  I do find it strange though the way the press seems to hone in on a case like this when there are far more serious problems with our society than a rather naïve girl making a tragic mistake at a young age.  Such is the nature of Britain today, and Brexit has only added to the problem.  I can still recall the man from Staffordshire who came into our Café a week after Brexit and declared that he had voted Leave to get rid of the “Fooking Muslims”.

But just for one moment Imagine the scenario, if a young British Jewish girl had left to join the Israeli army and had ended up shooting innocent civilians at the Gaza border, and then thought better of it and decided to return to England.  I wonder if she would be greeted by the same hostility, or would those objecting to her be declared as anti-Semites.  Strange world isn’t it?

My Record Collection 63

Julie Covington – A strange one this; a reluctant pop-star.    Julie was and still is a brilliant actress; I first saw her in a Caryl Churchill play at The Royal Court before she was famous.  She had recorded a couple of albums but she was an interpreter of songs not a songwriter.  Then Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice chose her to sing Evita (see E).  This was not only an inspired choice, as she was brilliant – but a very clever marketing ploy.  Evita at that point was a musical that had never been performed; they recorded it however and the album was a huge hit, in large part due to Julie’s beautiful singing.  You see, she was first and foremost an actress and acted the part of Evita in her singing, ranging from ecstasy to sadness in the same song.  The single ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ went to number 1 and Julie was a star, if a reluctant one.  Then she was in Rock Follies (see R) on ITV, a brilliant drama with songs about a struggling girl group.  I bought her biggest Selling album Julie Covington, which was okay but not fantastic, even if it did have another hit single; Alic Cooper’s song ‘Only Women Bleed’, which was controversial at the time – and maybe still is.  Julie returned soon after this to full-time acting.

Cowboy Junkies

This is a Canadian outfit compromised of 2 brothers and a sister and an old school friend.  They play very soft but alternative country music; Margot Timmins singing in a soft, almost not-there voice.  And every song sounds more or less the same, same tempo, same instruments, same voice – the melody almost not there sometimes too.  But it is sort of hypnotic and a bit soporific at the same time; perfect background music.  I have 2 albums – The Caution Horses (1990) which is very gentle and almost forgettable, it is finished before you realise.  And Open (2001) which is a bit more varied with more electric guitar and different tempos.  Quite pleasant but not really my kind of thing.  Also, the songs don’t seem to really resonate with me, the words float away before hitting my brain.  So, I won’t be buying any more of their albums I think.  Still

Kevin Coyne – a really strange one this; Kevin, and in particular this record were flavour of the month for a while back in  1973.  His album Marjory Razorblade was one of the early Virgin Record releases – and I bought it.  Kevin was a real hippy, a revolutionary character who wrote and painted and made records.  He couldn’t really sing; his voice was harsh and abrasive and a forerunner of some of punk; his songs were obscure and featured a lot about mental illness.  But somehow, for a while he was almost famous, at least in the music press.  I only have the one record, which is just as well.  It is a curio and I bought it again recently on CD as a record of my esoteric and varied musical education.  Interesting to re-listen after quite a few years – took me right back to 1973, one of the very best years for music.  He continued recording for many years and died in 2004.

Julie Covington …Plus

My Record Collection 62

Elvis Costello – I had seen him on Top of the Pops, a geeky spindly post punk singer.  The song was (The Angles Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes -and it was a breath of fresh air after the excesses of punk.  Then after Alison left me in Crete she also left behind a cassette of his first album My Aim Is True.  For many reasons (least of which that it was good) I played the tape to bits and eventually bought the album.  It was released in 1977 but I caught up with a few years later.  What a debut, exceedingly confident and well-written songs, produced by Nick Lowe on the cheap, but it has stood the test of time.  Best songs the single and the follow-up ‘Watching The Detectives’ (she’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake) and of course the classic ‘Alison (My Aim Is True)’.  I had most of his early records on cassette having sold the original records and am slowly rebuying him on CD; but he has been incredibly productive with over 30 studio albums already and still going strong.  I recently bought a 5 album box-set of mid-eighties records.   First up is Blood and Chocolate (1986).  Not my very favourite of his, a bit too much of a rough mix, the vocals seem blurred and a bit too screamy – but still, some good songs. ‘I Want You’ – a desperate love song, ‘Blue Chair’ and ‘Battered Old Bird’ are pretty good too.  Maybe I just like the quieter Elvis than the shouting one.   His next year’s effort Spike was really excellent – this was for a few weeks my favourite album.  A real mixture of styles and even an instrumental. Songs about innocent men hung, hatred of Thatcher, two songs co-written with McCartney, and a couple of love songs for good measure.  Something about the record just pulls you along from song to song.  Favourites are ‘Deep Dark Truthful Mirror’ ‘God’s Comic’ and ‘Baby Plays Around’ – but really hard to choose from so many great songs.  1991’s Mighty Like A Rose was a bit of a mixed bag, some good songs and some which sounded a bit desperate – I suppose all Artists must reach a point 15 years into their career when they wonder if they are still relevant?  Still a handful of good songs – ‘All grown Up’ and ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and ‘So Like Candy’ (another co-write with McCartney).  But altogether a bit of a disappointment I felt.

1994’s Brutal Youth is another record that failed to really excite me….at the time.  But now on hearing it again, it is quite good – though like most of his albums patchy; too many desperate shouting songs – as if by raising his voice he gets the emotion over better, when his quieter sung stuff has all the emotion you could want.  Anyway, best songs ‘You tripped at every step’ and ‘Rocking horse Road’.

Better was 95’s Kojak Variety, a covers album of mostly obscure and early blues songs with a couple of better known songs included – Dylan’s ‘I Threw it All Away’ and the Kinks ‘Days’.  Although most of the songs were new to me they sound pretty good sung by Costello – and on first listening they might have been his own compositions.  An interesting record but not one of his very best.  I basically stopped buying him around this time, just picking up the occasional charity shop offering.   One of these was All This Wasted Beauty – and it is really pretty good.  A bit slower mostly and better for it, it somehow seems a tad ridiculous when older singers try to belt it out like they were still teenagers.  Doing a bit of research I find that these songs had all been written with other Artists in mind; he did offer them and a few were recorded.  Best songs; the title track and ‘Other End Of The Telescope’, and ‘Poor Fractured Atlas’.  Obviously Costello was writing far more material than he could record as many of his records have been later re-released with extra songs.  Another charity shop buy was The Delivery Man (2002).   This is a more American sounding album, amplified by duets with Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris.  Still a couple of out and out rockers but not a bad record all told – best songs; ‘There’s a Story in Your Voice’. ‘Nothing Clings Like Ivy’ and ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’ – which surprise surprise are all sad slow songs. Last but not least is a compilation of early hits called Girls Girls Girls; excellent and a joy to listen to.    And it makes me realise that maybe this is all I need, all the other albums are okay but sometimes The Greatest Hits is all you need. Not that that has ever slowed me down…

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The Sun Is Always Shining

We are in the middle of winter, a pretty grey and wet one too.  In fact, January, here in France was unremitting rain almost every day.  Then we had a couple of sunny days and it lifted everyone’s spirits; ”It might be cold – but at least the sun is shining.” was on everyone’s lips.  But, of course, the sun is always shining.  Somewhere on earth the sun is beating down merrily, warming people and making them feel happy.  And in fact, of course, the sun is always shining but sometimes we cannot see it for the clouds.   You only have to go up in an aeroplane to observe this.

And that is so true of life.  There are times when everything seems to be going wrong, problems piling up – we’ve all been there.  But actually, we are incredibly fortunate – the sun has been shining on us for all our lives.  Very few of us have witnessed wars; even my parents were children during the War and can barely remember it.  We have lived through one of the longest periods without major conflicts in recorded history.  I know – there still constant wars in Africa and the Middle East – but these don’t involve us personally.  There is no conscription, so we are unlikely to ever have to fight a war, especially as any future major conflict may well be fought by drones and computers (little comfort as we will all probably be annihilated, but hey).  For most of us too we have access to still (despite the cuts) a pretty good health service; we are living longer and mostly in good shape too.  Hunger for most is also a thing of the past too, at least here in the West.

Best of all, most working people have had unimaginable increases in our standard of living; our Great Grandparents would simply have never imagined our lives today.

And yet, we hardly appreciate it at all.  We take for granted free education, old age pensions, the NHS, decent wages, good housing, television, computers and all the rest.  And yes, at times much of this appears to be under threat.  Life can still appear somewhat of a lottery.  Bad things still do happen.  But behind it all the Sun is still shining even if we sometimes cannot see it for the clouds…